“What’re You Having”

Michael Rogers with his shock of dark hair.

By Rosemary Rogers, Contributor
December / January 2020

1939 – Astor Bar, New York


My father, Michael Rogers, was a bartender at New York’s legendary Astor Bar from 1936 to 1965. The photo above was taken for the N.Y. Daily News series, “The Correct Thing,” on tipping bartenders. It’s not a good shot of him, as it doesn’t do justice to his hair, wavy and deep black, a color he likened to “the inside of a raven’s wing.” He was born in Drumlish, County Longford, in 1900 or 1903 (accounts vary) and, in 1926, he and his Longford mate, Hughie Prunty, having never visited Dublin, were on their way to New York. They walked from Longford to Cork to travel steerage on a dumpy tub with a devout name, The Celtic Cross. After a long but fun-filled crossing, they arrived in New York. Hughie looked the city over, decided it wasn’t for him, and headed west, to Nevada. My father, on the other hand, headed north to Harlem, where he lived for a few years and later, moved to the Bronx. It was in the Bronx that he met my mother, Rose Flood, a native of County Monaghan. They were together at the Longford Association Annual Dance when my father won a round-trip ticket to Ireland and ever-gallant, offered her the prize. The Depression had left her unemployed and living with her brother and his hideous wife. She was so happy being home in Ireland (and away from her sister-in-law) that she stayed for well over a year. Her mother and sisters begged her stay, but she returned to her boyfriend in the Bronx and they married in 1938.From the 1930s to 1950s the Astor Bar was a watering hole for the glamourous and famous but it was so much more than that – it was the essence of New York sophistication. It even making its way into a classic Cole Porter song, “Well Did You Evah!” “Have you heard that Mimsie Starr / She got pinched in the Astor bar.”

Michael Rogers bartending in the Astor Bar. The picture was taken by the New York Daily News for its pictorial series called “The Correct Thing,” the subject for this particular segment being “tipping bartenders.”

The farm boy from Longford with a fifth-grade education learned some life lessons on the job. It was a steep learning curve, as he saw stuff that didn’t happen in Drumlish or (at least, openly), even in Dublin. Men he knew to be married would swan to the bar with much younger women he knew not to be their wives. He frequently saw grown men passionately kissing, the Astor being the only upscale, gay-friendly bar around. But what shocked him most was the realization that rich people could be cheap, very cheap. Not to name names but there was Rex Harrison who once tipped four cents after many rounds of drinks. Ed Sullivan came up empty after poking around in his pants for loose change, as did Joe DiMaggio. By contrast, there was Jackie Gleason, whose tip was always much greater than his substantial tab; the former mayor of New York, James J. Walker; and Tallulah Bankhead – all were not only were generous, but greeted him with a “Hiya Mike. But the most generous was Frank Sinatra, who said my father was his favorite bartender. In fact, on the day I was born, Frank gave him $100 “for the baby” in addition to his usual tip. Ol’ Blue Eyes insisted he not pool the $100 with the other bartenders, dishwashers, and bellhops (it was, after all, my money), but at the end of the night, my father did just that. – Submitted by Rosemary Rogers

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